Learnings for Marketers from Pubcon 2013

I’m writing this on Thursday, while sitting at the New Orleans airport after a whirlwind few days attending the Pubcon 2013 publishing conference.  I was privileged to participate in a panel on Social Media Content Creation together with some smart folks who had a lot of good things to say about creating and disseminating social media content. Conductor’s Director of Search Intelligence Brian McDowell also presented a great session on The Best SEO Tools and moderated another session on Organic Keyword Research and Selection.

While it is still fresh in my mind, I want to share a few key themes that came out of the conference that reflect how Marketers are thinking today about the ever-evolving online landscape. (These takeaways extend above and beyond the learning that when walking through the sketchier parts of New Orleans at 12:30 at night, if you are 5’8” 140 pounds, have someone like 6’5” Brian McDowell with you to let those in the shadows know you mean business…)

pubcon 2013 new orleans

Imagery is a Force Multiplier in Online Marketing

Several presenters in several different sessions pointed out that imagery is a way to enhance our efforts to stand out in both search and social.  But, the headline above should really read  “Good Imagery is a Force Multiplier in Online Marketing”—it’s not enough to just include any imagery in a tweet or Facebook post, choosing the right imagery is critical. One presenter recommended taking an extra 5 minutes to find a strong image to go along with a tweet or facebook post—it can make the difference between a great post that catches a tailwind and a *yawn* from the internet.  Likewise, in search, authorship in the search results can have a substantial impact on click-through rates and digital assets in the search results can drive competitors off the page and increase brand exposure.

Evolution towards Unifying Platforms

The Keynote speaker on day 1 was Michael Slaby, the CTO for the Obama campaign.  He described how in the 2008 campaign, the campaign used a cobbled-together collection of homegrown and off-the-shelf tools to digitally market, engage and track their audiences online.

In 2012, they had developed an in-house platform that pulled together data from disparate sources and gave them the ability to effectively track and monitor efforts both online and off.  This evolution from cobbled-together, home-grown tools to platforms that pull data together from disparate sources and drive Marketers to new found levels of efficiency and productivity is a theme we heard echoed throughout the conference.



(As an aside, I’m still hoping Michael responds to my tweet pointing out Conductor’s research that shows – while correlation does not imply causality – that whatever they did in developing the platform seems to have worked as Obama’s digital reach far surpassed Romney’s in the 2012 election).

Don’t Bet the Farm on Social > SEO Just Yet

Despite many cries in the industry that social signals are the new, well, everything, when it comes to search algorithm signals there are many factors impacting ranking beyond social signals.  In fact, the fundamental underpinnings remain links and on page factors.  One of my favorite sessions was one where the presenter showed many instances of pages ranking in top search positions despite not having any social sharing activity to speak of at all on the ranking page. This is not to say that the engines are not working to figure out how to best leverage social signals in ranking algorithms but the message was clear: don’t panic and go betting the farm on it just yet.

Organizational Enablement is the New Thing in Enterprise SEO

Another theme that emerged was the concept of the SEO in the enterprise transitioning into an enablement role. That is, moving into a role where they spend a large percentage of their time enabling others in the organization with the data, insight training and tools to succeed.

For example, in one conversation I had with the person who, for years, managed all of Microsoft’s SEO she described how in managing the SEO efforts for a multi-national organization the ways in which she could spend her time stretched nearly to infinity.

She described, how she (recently) recognized that the best way for her to maximize her organizations natural search potential was by spending her time empowering and enabling others in the organization to succeed in natural search.  By providing training, data, insight, tools and general support she could multiply the effect she could singularly provide, short of visiting a geneticist to clone herself multiple times over.

Miss Pubcon 2013? Get Nathan and Brian’s Decks Here

Hope to see you at a future conference. Download Brian and Nathan’s slide decks to find out what you missed.

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